NCAA Football News
Many college football fans are eagerly anticipating Notre Dame's regular-season opener at Texas because the contest will showcase the winner of the Fighting Irish's quarterback competition.
But we must wait one day longer than anticipated.
Notre Dame announced the clash—which was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3—will be played on Sunday night. Kickoff time and broadcast details are to be announced for the now-Sept. 4 tilt.
"A game of the magnitude of Notre Dame-Texas, played on the opening weekend of the college football season, deserves a special place on the Labor Day sports calendar," Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, per the release.
ESPN's Matt Fortuna provided statements from Texas athletic director Mike Perrin and head coach Charlie Strong.
Special timing for games on Labor Day weekend has become commonplace, especially when the NFL regular season doesn't start until the following week.
However, the Monday night game has typically served as the headliner. In 2014, Miami battled Louisville. Last season, Virginia Tech hosted Ohio State. This year, Ole Miss and Florida State will square off on a neutral site.
Sunday has usually lacked a nationally-relevant matchup, considering the outings recently included Purdue-Marshall (2015) as well as Baylor-SMU and Tennessee-Utah State (2014).
Not so this year.
The 2016 meeting will be the 12th in series history. Notre Dame currently holds a 9-2 series lead, including a five-game winning streak that began in 1971.
Last season, Malik Zaire threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns, helping head coach Brian Kelly's team hammer the Longhorns 38-3. DeShone Kizer was merely an afterthought at the time, but Zaire's campaign ended due to a broken right ankle the next week.
Zaire and Kizer will continue vying for the No. 1 spot throughout the spring and summer. Coach Kelly might not even make a decision on the starter before the Irish invade Austin.
The winner of the competition—or, perhaps, the first one in the rotation to go under center—will be the focal point of the prime-time game.
Once the meeting is over, Notre Dame's players and students who made the trip must return to South Bend for class on Monday.
Granted, the process of changing flights and hotel reservations is probably worth the hassle for Fighting Irish supporters.
And we already know the athletic departments will have increased exposure and benefit on the bottom line—assuredly the primary reason Notre Dame vs. Texas is switching to a Sunday night game.
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Michigan's spring game has come and gone, Northwestern and Minnesota will each play their annual exhibitions this weekend and before you know it, we'll officially be in the longest—and least eventful—portion of the college football offseason: summer conditioning.
So while college football is still in the news—at least as much as it can be during spring practice—let's enjoy it with another edition of Big Ten Q&A. This week we'll tackle the conference's national championship dark horse, the best Big Ten sleeper pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the league's most overrated and underrated teams and whether one Big Ten team was more talented than a certain NFL roster was a year ago?
As always, you can send your questions to me each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.
Let's get started.
Outside of the Buckeyes and Wolverines, I actually do think there is one other Big Ten team capable of making a national title run in 2016.
But after the way Iowa closed its 2015 campaign, the reality is that I have no idea what to make of the Hawkeyes' prospects in the coming year.
Starting with the negative, Iowa's 45-16 loss to Stanford in January's Rose Bowl left plenty of doubt about the program being on the same level as college football's elite while simultaneously lending credence to the theory that the Hawkeyes' 12-0 regular-season record was more of a matter of happenstance than sustainable progress in the program.
If Iowa looked so overmatched on the national stage, how could it be counted on in a playoff scenario where it would not only be forced to face a team as talented as Stanford, but also one as dominant as Alabama or Clemson?
At the same time, however, the Hawkeyes have a lot working in their favor in 2016.
Most notably, Iowa will return 72 percent of its production on both offense and defense from 2015, according to SBNation's Bill Connelly. That's good for the third-most returning production in all the Big Ten in 2016 and the most of any team in the league to possess a winning record a year ago.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard will be back in Iowa City, as will Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King. Perhaps most importantly, Wisconsin, arguably Iowa's biggest threat in the Big Ten West, faces a schedule so tough in the coming year that it's tough to imagine the Badgers being in the hunt for the division crown by year's end.
Conversely, the Hawkeyes' schedule is much more manageable, with matchups with Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska all coming inside the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. If Iowa can survive that and pull off what would likely be an upset in the conference title game over the representative from the superior Big Ten East, the Hawkeyes could find themselves in the College Football Playoff after missing out on football's final four by just one game a year ago.
From there, anything could happen. But after last season's Rose Bowl, I'm not necessarily holding my breath on an Iowa national title run in 2016.
Here are a few mid-late-round Big Ten prospects to keep an eye on:
Carl Nassib, Penn State
It's rare that a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year with 15.5 sacks in his senior season would fly under the radar. But given his status as a former walk-on and questions as to whether or not he was even the best defensive lineman on the Nittany Lions roster last season, that's exactly where Carl Nassib finds himself at the moment.
While he's currently projected by CBSSports.com as a second- or third-rounder, you can't teach 6'7", 277 pounds. You also don't tally 15.5 sacks by accident—so don't be surprised if Nassib makes an instant impact in his college career.
Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State
After a largely inconsistent career in East Lansing, Aaron Burbridge saved his best for last, catching 85 balls for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season. Still, questions about his lack of consistency and injury history haunt him, as he's currently projected as a third-fourth round pick by CBSSports.com.
A former 4-star prospect, Burbridge has the talent and, as last season showed, is more than capable of making an impact when he's on the field. If he can manage to continue to do just that, an NFL team could find itself with a first-round talent in one of the middle rounds.
Nick Vannett, Ohio State
Ohio State's use of its tight ends—or lack thereof—has been a long-running joke in Columbus, and Nick Vannett's production over the course of his college career shows why. Despite his apparent talent, the 6'6", 260-pounder only caught 55 balls for 535 yards and six touchdowns over the course of his four seasons with the Buckeyes.
As a result of his lack of production, Vannett's draft stock has slid, with CBSSports.com currently projecting him to be a third-round pick. But according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, he's comparable to at least one former first-rounder, which could make him another potential steal in the upcoming draft.
Starting with the overrated, I'm going to go with Wisconsin, although as a whole I really like the Badgers roster and the direction of their program. Despite his disappointing junior campaign, I believe Corey Clement will achieve star status in 2015 and that Bart Houston should fill in seamlessly for Joe Stave at quarterback.
That schedule, however, is too much to ignore.
Even aside from a season opener against LSU, I can't imagine a Big Ten team ever having a tougher start to conference play than Wisconsin has in 2016. Not only are the Badgers' three cross-divisional games this season against the three best teams in the Big Ten East (Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State) but Wisconsin starts its Big Ten slate with those three games, in order.
After that, it doesn't get much easier, with a trip to Iowa City to face the defending Big Ten West champion, Iowa, on October 22. As talented as Wisconsin is, a 2-6 start to the season isn't out of the realm of possibility.
As far as underrated goes, I've already made the case for Nebraska as the potential Big Ten West champ, so let me give you another team from the division to keep an eye on: Minnesota.
Despite last season's 5-7 regular season record, I still like the direction the Golden Gophers are heading, as last year's disappointing results can largely be blamed on the mess that came with former head coach Jerry Kill being forced to step down due to health reasons midseason. As Kill's former defensive coordinator, new Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys can allow the Gophers to maintain continuity while still putting his own updated stamp on the program.
With quarterback Mitch Leidner back for his third season as a starter, Minnesota should have a shot at contending for the division crown this season. In total, the Big Ten West should be a lot better than most people think—even with the Badgers' brutal schedule.
This question was written in jest—I think—and in reference to how often Cleveland Browns fans clamor for their favorite team to pick players from nearby Ohio State.
But given that the Buckeyes could have as many as seven players picked in the first round later this month, there's actually something to explore here.
As early as the Browns preseason last summer, it struck me just how little talent their roster possessed compared to the defending national champion (Ohio State) I was in the midst of covering. It seems that every year it gets asked whether or not a college team could beat an NFL team and each time the answer is a resounding "no."
But as far as whose roster I'd rather have moving forward, I could certainly make a compelling case for the Buckeyes.
Just look at it from a position-by-position breakdown as far as Ohio State's draft-eligible players are concerned:
Would you rather have Robert Griffin III or Cardale Jones? I could argue that's a wash.
Isaiah Crowell or Ezekiel Elliott? I'm definitely taking Elliott.
Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel or Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall? Give me the Buckeyes.
Gary Barnidge or Nick Vannett? I'd stick with Barnidge.
Joe Thomas or Taylor Decker? Given age and Decker's status as a likely first-round pick, I'd take him.
Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Danny Shelton or Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Darron Lee? I'd take the Ohio State players.
Joe Haden, Tramon Williams and Justin Gilbert or Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell? I'd give the Browns the edge, but it's closer than you'd think.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if the Browns were to flip rosters with the Buckeyes, they actually might be in better shape moving forward than they are now.
Now I guess the real question is whether that says more about the rosters in Cleveland or Columbus at the moment.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Spring football is a time for competition. Fifteen practices and no games to prepare for give college football coaches a chance to push players who they aren’t happy with or give younger players an opportunity to win a starting role. The quarterback position is not immune from this phenomenon.
Each spring, programs across America hold quarterback competitions for a variety of reasons—a former starter returning from injury, an ineffective starter, the graduation of the previous starter o the separation of two similar players. This spring is no different.
A number of intriguing, high-profile competitions are taking place, and some are certain to shuffle the starting quarterback ranks while ruffling some feathers. Here’s a look at 10 starting quarterbacks who are most likely to lose their jobs by the end of the 2016 season, if not well before.
It's never too early to make predictions, and you'd better believe around water coolers and chat rooms across the Southeast that folks are talking about how their favorite SEC football teams are going to fare once September rolls around.
So, why can't we go ahead and make our way-too-early predictions?
Everybody wants to know whether Alabama can repeat as the national champion. Which Florida will show up in '16—the one that started so hot or the one that couldn't muster any points as the season progressed?
What will Georgia look like without Mark Richt on the sideline during the Kirby Smart regime? Can Barry Odom return Missouri to its SEC East-leading form of 2013 and '14 after Gary Pinkel's final season in Columbia was disastrous?
Tennessee (again) has tons of hype surrounding it, and Ole Miss looks like a full-fledged yearly contender under coach Hugh Freeze, but the Rebels still need to get to Atlanta for the first time in order for us to take them seriously.
With a top-tier nonconference slate, the league will try to prove its dominance once again after a strong bowl showing in 2015. There is a ton of quarterback and coaching turnover, but the SEC appears primed to flex its talent superiority again.
Let's take a look at what could be in store for every program once spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp give way to real football.
Ohio State has fielded one of the most devastatingly productive rushing attacks in the country since 2012—the year Urban Meyer took over as head coach—and much of that success is tied directly to the Buckeyes' featured running back.
From 2012-13, that role belonged to Carlos Hyde, who rumbled his way to 2,689 total yards and 35 touchdowns.
Over the last two seasons, it was Ezekiel Elliott who led the charge, and he put together historically great numbers with 4,125 total yards and 41 touchdowns from 2014-15.
With Elliott making an early jump to the NFL, Meyer and the Buckeyes have a lot of questions in their backfield.
Mike Weber is trying to emerge as the answer.
The 5'10", 215-pound bulldozer was rated as a high 4-star prospect for the class of 2015, and he became one of the crown jewels of last year's Ohio State recruiting haul when he chose Meyer over Jim Harbaugh and the home-state Michigan Wolverines.
It didn't take Weber long to show his talent.
In fall camp last year, Weber shot up the depth chart despite being part of the program for a couple of months. He flexed his muscle in one of Ohio State's fall scrimmages, saying he ran the ball 15 times for nearly 200 yards with "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.
Everything was lining up for him to become Elliott's primary backup and get some playing time in his first season in Columbus.
He was the second true freshman to lose his black stripe, joining offensive tackle Isaiah Prince as an official member of the team, and he factored in as a nice change-of-pace back to the lightning-fast Elliott.
But Weber suffered a torn meniscus that required surgery before the start of the season, an injury that was expected to cost him three to four weeks, per Eleven Warriors' Eric Seger. But that, paired with Elliott's ability to carry the load, led to a redshirt and a season on the sideline for the talented running back.
That setback gave Weber the opportunity to sit back and learn from one of the most productive running backs in school history, and after Ohio State's 44-28 thrashing of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, he talked about his lost year and expectations for 2016, according to Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com:
I started off really good. I kind of caught on to the college speed of the game really quick and was basically running the ball really good. The injury slowed me down a little bit. It kind of set me back this whole year and maybe pushed me toward a redshirt.
But if I had to do it again, I'd be a redshirt because I learned from Zeke and the guys in front of me. I just sat back and watched those guys. I am just going to let it all loose next year.
Now that he's fully healthy, he's vying to become the next great running back under Meyer at Ohio State. But he's in the thick of a heated position battle with senior Bri'onte Dunn, a career backup who's not taking what is likely his last opportunity for a starting position lightly.
With spring practice winding down, neither Weber nor Dunn have surged ahead to become the clear starter, and questions about whether Ohio State should implement a two-headed running back attack have surfaced.
"Will we get to that point? I don't know," Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said, according to Seger. "I guess the question you're asking is if we'll do it by committee? I don't have that answer right now."
Alford expanded more on what each running back brings to the offense.
"Mike’s probably a little more of a slasher," Alford said, via Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "He slides off of things a little better than Bri’onte. Bri’onte is more of a downhill, just a plugger. They both can do the jobs that we need them to do in this offense."
If Weber proves to be more of a home run hitter, he'd be the better fit for a featured role in an offense that's replacing eight starters from last year's team.
And if recent history is any indication, Weber could be in for some huge numbers in 2016 and beyond.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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